Friday, February 10, 2017

Russian political interference: keeping it (too) simple

There should be a real investigation of the Russian hacking story and of possible improper dealings between the Trump campaign and the current Russia government.

And it's obvious that the ideological position and propaganda efforts of the Putin regime are oriented toward encouraging xenophobic, white supremacist and authoritarian parties and movement in other parts of the world, including Europe and the US.

But that doesn't mean Democrats or progressives need to be simple-minded about the whole thing, either.

Unfortunately, Robby Mook seems to be doing exactly that in I ran Clinton's campaign, and I fear Russia is meddling with more than elections Guardian 02/07/2017.

This could be straight out of 1950's anti-Russian propaganda pamphlet, except it's taking an anti-Putinist perspective instead of an anti-Communist one.:

But there’s a deeper dimension to Russia’s actions, which deserves the free world’s urgent attention: its capacity to silently influence domestic legislation and policy-making between elections.

With his success in the US last year, Putin has put opponents on notice that there will be a price to pay for crossing him. Indeed, the complex infrastructure that Russia built to infect public discourse with false or stolen information isn’t going anywhere. It can be unleashed at any time, on any issue, domestic or international.
One wonders which countries Mook considers to be part of the Free World. Obviously, the list wouldn't include Russia.

Mook's pitch strikes me indulging in the same kind of scare-mongering we've become all too familiar in the Global War on Terrorism, or whatever the Trump Family Business Administration is calling it these days.

Is Russia, a petrostate hard hit by the drop in oil prices in recent years, really such a towering threat to US security and to elections in the US and the EU? I realize that even a small country can concentrate resources on particular governmental efforts. But by comparison, the CIA World Factbook as of this writing shows estimated 2016 US GDP in dollars, in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms, at $19 trillion, Russia's at $4 trillion. US military spending exceeds that of Russia by astronomical amounts.

But cyber-security and cyberwar capabilities can also give a country new capacities to wage asymmetric conflicts. And that's why the Russian hacking and related issues from 2016 need to be investigated seriously. Along with, you know, enforcing election and espionage laws.

Other than vague references to doing more of something or other to block Russian mischief and referring to filtering measures implmented by Facebook and Twitter, he does mention this: "We must also think about how to manage the presence of government-backed news operations, such as Russia Today (rebranded as the more opaque RT) which can increase their reach through online promotion. The law makes no distinction between the New York Times and outlets like RT or China Daily, which are essentially state-sponsored propaganda."

What does this actually mean? Blocking broadcasts online in the US from RT and China Daily? What immediately comes to mind is how this kind of restriction might have on Internet functioning and Internet businesses. Surely it must also have crossed the mind of Hillary's campaign manager that a Republican President with a Republican Congress with a Republican-dominated federal court system would be happy to use such a law to declare other state-owned or state-funded channels that makes them unhappy. to be "propaganda." Like the BBC. Or TeleSUR. Or the ARD channel in Germany. Or ORF in Austria. Or Televisión Pública Argentina - even though their main programming under the Macri government is light entertainment. After all, our current President claims that major mainstream channels and news services routinely spread Fake News.

But Mook apparently thinks American brains are easily washed by TV channels using those hyper-sophisticated, occult persuasion techniques available to the Russians. Or something. But he adds another sentence in the last quoted passage, " The law makes no distinction between the New York Times and outlets like RT or China Daily, which are essentially state-sponsored propaganda. Sadly, the unfiltered nature of much social media means many Americans don’t see much of a distinction either." (my italics)

And, I have it on good authority that foreign papers in dangerous places with lots of terrorists like France also carry statements by non-American government. So maybe we need to block French news sites of all kinds. And German and British and Swedish, too. I'm being sarcastic because it's a road I would prefer to see Democratic politicians steer clear of. It will not work out for the best, even if it did cause short-term annoyance to Trumpists not to have RT to spread some of the same news that Infowars, Breitbart News, FOX News and Republican hate radio promote 24/7.

A new questions are now in the news about Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn's dealings with Russia. The Washington Post reports in National security adviser Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador, despite denials, officials say 02/10/2017 that Flynn had discussions during the Presidential transition period with the Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, about Western sanctions against Russis.

This is embarrassing for Flynn, because he had denied having had such discussions with Kislyak, as had Mike Pence.

But it's not at all clear from the report that there was anything illegal or otherwise improper about that discussion itself. The Post notes:
The nature of Flynn’s pre-inauguration message to Kislyak triggered debate among officials in the Obama administration and intelligence agencies over whether Flynn had violated a law against unauthorized citizens interfering in U.S. disputes with foreign governments, according to officials familiar with that debate. Those officials were already alarmed by what they saw as a Russian assault on the U.S. election.

U.S. officials said that seeking to build such a case against Flynn would be daunting. The law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, known as the Logan Act, stems from a 1799 statute that has never been prosecuted. As a result, there is no case history to help guide authorities on when to proceed or how to secure a conviction.

Officials also cited political sensitivities. Prominent Americans in and out of government are so frequently in communication with foreign officials that singling out one individual — particularly one poised for a top White House job — would invite charges of political persecution.

Former U.S. officials also said aggressive enforcement would probably discourage appropriate contact. Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, said that he was in Moscow meeting with officials in the weeks leading up to Obama’s 2008 election win.

“As a former diplomat and U.S. government official, one needs to be able to have contact with foreigners to do one’s job,” McFaul said. McFaul, a Russia scholar, said he was careful never to signal pending policy changes before Obama took office. [my emphasis]

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